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Can Steven Gerrard replicate his Rangers success with Aston Villa?

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Steven Gerrard, the boy who joined Liverpool’s academy at the age of 9 and went onto becoming one of the world’s best midfielder at his boyhood club has now become one of the hottest managerial prospects in England. After taking the Scottish Premiership by storm, dethroning Celtic and putting Glasgow Rangers back on to the footballing summit, Gerrard joined Aston Villa as Manager. Gerrard arrived after the sacking of Dean Smith & was given the responsibility of guiding this extremely talented Villa Squad to a Top Half finish. Here we take a look at Steven Gerrard’s managerial accolades and how he has transitioned from Rangers to Villa.

Beginning of his managerial career

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Steven Gerrard often lauded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, retired from football on November 6, 2016. He played his final game for LA Galaxy in a Playoff Cup loss to Colorado Rapids. After a long, illustrious career at Liverpool and a farewell tour in the MLS, Gerrard immediately moved into management.

In January 2017, Gerrard was appointed as a youth coach for Liverpool’s academy and he took charge of the Under 18 side for the 2017-18 season. Gerrard’s appointment was seen as an emotional move by the club. A player who captained his boyhood club and was adored by the KOP was now tasked with grooming young talent and developing them. The Liverpool ownership, even Jurgen Klopp himself were extremely impressed by his work ethic and desire to help the Academy players, an academy which had groomed Gerrard into a world-beater himself.

Move to Glasgow Rangers

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RANGERS F.C., also referred to as the Glasgow Rangers, are one of the biggest clubs in the Scottish Premiership. A team who has seen the likes of Graeme Souness and Ally Mcoist grace the pitch at Ibrox Park was in desperate need of a lift prior to Gerrard’s arrival. Having been relegated to the fourth tier of Scottish football after undergoing insolvency & seeing their arch-rivals Celtic win 9 consecutive league titles, Rangers needed a manager to bring back the glory days.

In May 2018, Steven Gerrard was appointed as the Rangers manager after he signed a 4-year contract. Initially, there were question marks surrounding his managerial credentials and whether he’d be able to cope with the pressure of managing at Ibrox Park. But, Gerrard couldn’t have asked for a better start at the club as he went on a 12 game unbeaten run during his initial days at the helm. He even defeated Celtic in the Old firm derby on 29 December 2018 who had former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as their head coach. This defeat handed Rodgers his first defeat in 13 old firm derbies and was the first Rangers derby win since 2016.

During his time at Rangers, he was constantly linked to a move to the Premier League. When the managerial position at Newcastle became vacant, Gerrard was approached by the Geordies to take over as Manager, but he reportedly turned down the offer, reiterating his commitment to Rangers. After losing out on the Premiership to Celtic for 2 consecutive seasons, Gerrard’s men stormed their way to the Scottish Premiership without losing even a single game throughout the season. This was their first title in 10 years and ended Celtic’s run of 9 consecutive league triumphs.

Gerrard’s philosophy at Rangers

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Upon his arrival, Gerrard set up his team in an orthodox 4-3-3 formation. Initially, the formation included Candeias and Kent as natural wingers who supported Morelos, the lone Number 9. A major part of their attacking play included short, intricating passing maneuvers between the fullbacks, wingers & box-to-box midfielders. Although Gerrard’s team managed to grind out results using these tactics, they struggled to break down a low block. This was Gerrard’s major headache in his 1st season as Manager.

In order to break down a low block, instead of opting for a change in formation, Gerrard tweaked the team’s positional play. Instead of natural wingers, Gerrard opted for 2 Number 10s playing alongside Morelos who played narrowly in an unorthodox adaptation of the 4-3-3 formation.  While playing with narrow forwards, the likes of Barisic & Travernier were tasked with providing the width in the final third as Fullbacks. Much of their attacking play included threading forward passes for the 3 forwards who’d occupy dangerous positions in between the opposition Midfield & defensive lines. The forwards would then either interchange passes among themselves or create overlaps for the fullbacks, creating goalscoring opportunities.

The 3 midfielders included one defensive Number 6 & 2 Box to Box midfielders. As the fullbacks pushed forward, the centre-backs drifted wide in order to cover the space in behind the fullbacks. Thus, the number 6 dropped in between the centre-backs to collect the ball & progress it further up the pitch. The box-to-box fielders were tasked with making groundbreaking runs beyond the forwards & also pressed the middle of the park with full intensity in order to win the ball back.

Comparisons with Klopp & the move to Villa

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Gerrard’s philosophy is heavily inspired with Liverpool’s style of play under Klopp. This has led to Gerrard being touted as the successor to Klopp when he calls it a day at Liverpool. Fullbacks pushing forward, Number 9 dropping deep at times & midfielders constantly creating overloads in certain attacking positions, these are tactics adopted by Klopp’s Liverpool & Gerrard seemed to have mirrored them at Rangers.

On November 11, 2021, Steven Gerrard was appointed as manager of Aston Villa. After losing out on Jack Grealish, their talisman over the past few years, Villa struggled to replicate the performances of last season, ultimately leading to the sacking of Dean Smith. Gerrard’s move to Villa has been widely touted as a move which will help Gerrard work his way to the Liverpool job. But Gerrard remains adamant, reiterating the fact that his primary focus is to help Villa challenge the elite Premier League Clubs.

The Villa squad seems to have been tailor made for Gerrard’s style of play. With Emi Martinez in goal, Villa have a strong defensive partnership for Konsa & Mings as centre-backs. Cash & Targett are fullbacks who bomb forward as well as provide strong defensive cover. In the midfield, Nakamba acts as a destroyer in the Number 6 position, with Mcginn & Douglas Luiz acting as box-to-box fielders. And with talented forwards such as Bailey, Buendia, Ramsey & Watkins, it’ll be interesting to see the development of this Villa side.

Denouement

Aston Villa are a team who are working their way towards the top half of the league table & have European ambitions of their own. Having assembled a young, talented squad, they’re in desperate need of a manager who’d stamp his authority over the squad and implement his philosophy on the team. After struggling to stay in the division a couple of seasons ago, Villa are a side who’re on the up. The appointment of Steven Gerrard has already reaped its rewards with 4 wins & narrow defeats to Liverpool & City in his first 6 games. Villa are already playing fast-paced pro-active football and although Gerrard will need some time to get these players playing with fluidity & adapting to his tactics, the European Cup Winners in 1982 surely have the potential of challenging the big guns in the Premier League.

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